To boost hobbled economy, Trump orders agencies to ease rules

U.S. President Donald J. Trump signs the $1.5 trillion tax cut bill, stacked on his desk, in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 22, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Mike Theiler/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)
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By Benjamin J. Hulac CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to pinpoint regulations “that may inhibit economic recovery” and alter or eliminate them in order to boost the economy hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The executive order issued Tuesday does not provide agencies, departments or officials with specific instructions but is a blanket message across the U.S. government to roll back or change regulations in the face of the health crisis that has killed more than 90,000 Americans and sent more than 35 million into unemployment.

“Agencies should address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery,” the order says in part.

Trump unveiled the order at a Cabinet meeting, touting his efforts to eliminate federal rules.

“With millions of Americans forced out of work by the virus, it’s more important than ever to remove burdens that destroy American jobs,” Trump said. “Regulations, we’ve done more regulation cutting than any president in history.”

Since coronavirus gripped the world and then America this spring, the Trump administration has issued a spate of new regulations, often weakening federal rules or allowing companies leeway in how they adhere to guidelines.

A report that the nonpartisan watchdog group Accountable.US released last week found federal agencies have issued more than 730 rules or rule proposals since Feb. 11, when the World Health Organization released the name of the virus. Just 2% of those rules or proposed rules directly related to COVID-19, the group said.

Congressional experts say an effort to dodge the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress to repeal executive branch rules put in place during the previous 60 legislative days, may be driving the administration’s push to release new rules.

The virus has muddled the congressional schedule. But rules issued after Tuesday could be subject to the CRA in the next Congress, according to George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center.

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen, a watchdog group, said in an interview that the order was broad and vaguely worded.

“It feels like a blank check,” she said of the order. “It’s encouraging agencies to do sort of an internal dive and decide if they can enforce things,” she said. “I think they are formalizing what’s been an informal mandate.”

Kay Coles James, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, welcomed the order. “Freeing our economy from unnecessary government regulation will play a critical role in speeding up our nation’s recovery from COVID-19,” she said in a statement.

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